Culture war issues fueled by Christian nationalists seem to be on the plate for debate in the 2022 midterm elections. In just the past few weeks, multiple politicians have indicated their desire to foist their view of God and religion into public policy.
In mid-July, Gov. Kristi Noem of South Dakota (a possible 2024 presidential contender) promised to bring “prayer back into public schools,” a vow that would require overturning a landmark Supreme Court decision.
A Republican U.S. Senate candidate in Ohio, Josh Mandel, said America needs “a Judeo-Christian revolution,” remarking, “We should be instilling God in the classroom, instilling God in the workplace, and in all aspects of society.” (One wonders which version of God and faith Mandel wants in the classrooms – probably his.)
Mandel and Noem aren’t the only ones promulgating religiosity in politics. Just last week Senator John N. Kennedy (R-La.) harangued President Joe Biden’s nominee for assistant attorney general in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Policy about his belief in God. The Faith & Freedom Coalition’s “Road to Majority” conference in June featured right-wing bigwigs, like U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida.
In a speech at the conference, Cruz even appealed to pastors to preach the gospel as a way to defeat the “woke assault” on America. His sermon, filled with Christian nationalist cultural grievances and religious fervor, saw him asking conservatives to be “prayer warriors.” As for DeSantis, he seems to believe that embracing white evangelicals’ disdain for sensible precautions to stop the spread of COVID will propel him into the national spotlight.
Along with broadsides against critical race theory and anti-LGBTQ sentiments, a devotion to Christian nationalism will be a theme in the run-up to the midterm elections.
Why do we seem to be stuck in this endless culture war? It’s undeniable that white evangelical Christians form a large part of the GOP’s base, so many politicians on the right work overtime to rally those votes. This was the strategy employed by Donald Trump before and during his presidency, in which he devoted a lion’s share of his policy to “defending” religious freedom. In other words, political necessity determines the role of faith in the Republican Party. That has made the promotion of certain culture war issues a populist litmus test for conservative politicians.
Another reason why invoking so-called Judeo-Christian values works so well with the modern right is because of the moral certainty, communal identity and paranoid politics that has come to define much of the GOP evangelical base. A recent poll from The Economist and YouGov suggests that regular churchgoers were more likely to have a favorable opinion of QAnon, a collective package of right-wing conspiracy theories with a religious blend, than non-churchgoers.
Far-right white evangelicals may simply be more susceptible to conspiratorial thinking, and, therefore, easier to hook with threats of bigotry, “woke assaults” and other extreme messages. Whatever the underlying motives, religious extremists are undeniably roped into divisive forms of politics by a simple message: “If you don’t stand up now, your way of life will end.”
It is worth keeping an eye on the trend of religiously loaded politics, as it has dangerous effects on the political ecosystem. This makes it essential that church-state separation be used to shield Americans from the dangers of religious extremism in governance. Left unchecked, religious paranoia can easily threaten political stability and lead to more radicalization and violent extremism.
Those who are told their way of life is threatened will do whatever it takes to survive. In the 2022 elections, politicians on the right should be wary of creating another fire they cannot control.